My previous blog posts tackled the huge growth opportunity that is B2B eCommerce and its specific dynamics in the electrical distribution industry. But what does it take to successfully reap the benefits of B2B eCommerce? What are the main challenges faced when it comes to putting together a well-oiled B2B eCommerce organization?
Challenges to overcome to successfully implement and drive B2B eCommerce
In fact, for a B2B organization, getting into eCommerce is easier said than done. B2B eCommerce is more than just another channel. It is a business strategy, set to enhance the overall end-to-end customer experience.
This means B2B organizations need to include into their digital transformation approach the various departments, organizational structures, complex legacy technology environments, systems, operational processes and business priorities. We can regroup this into three main challenges that come with setting up B2B eCommerce: People, Technology and Processes. In this blog post, I would like to address the not so often discussed topic: People!
The challenge of people in B2B organizations
When we talk about people, we actually refer to many things altogether: setting up the right culture, the right leadership and the right combination of profiles with the right expertise in each role. This is a real challenge when it comes to B2B eCommerce.
You probably won’t find the eCommerce expertise and competency you need in your organization straight away. Even worse, you will most probably struggle to attract digital talents.
So, in our current increasingly competitive candidate-driven job market, why aren’t B2B organizations able to capture this pool of talents?
First, these are new roles and experiences B2B organizations are not used to hiring. Then, there is a shortage of eCommerce resources looking to work in B2B: it seems the B2B world does not appeal much to digital talents. Several reasons can help understand why:
- Today, people value work-life balance, a pleasant and creative work environment as well as flexibility. All of these are not really B2B organizations’ greatest assets. Rightly or wrongly, manufacturers and distributors are associated with the 9-to-5 desk job mentality and their office spaces are usually very conventional and located outside the city, most probably in an industrial park.
- Moreover, B2B organizations usually lack a strong consumer brand even if employer branding is expected to gain greater strategic importance by 2020: in Universum’s survey “2020 Outlook, the Future of Employer Branding”, 40% of CEOs interviewed said their future goal for employer branding was to secure long-term hiring needs. For example, at Schneider Electric, our employee value proposition is a key area of focus when it comes to recruiting talents. It is built around three core values: meaningful, inclusive and empowered.
- Lastly, attracting digital talents means attracting millennials. As a matter of fact, they will account for 75% of the global workforce by 2025. Having said that, millennials look to work for companies that will give them opportunities for career advancement which means companies offering flexibility to learn and grow quickly as well as entrusting even the youngest with responsibilities. However, compared to B2C organizations, B2B ones don’t exactly focus on marketing this when recruiting…
Addressing the challenge of people for our Schneider Electric eCommerce business
Above all, strong executive sponsorship is a must-have before even thinking of building your eCommerce team. This will enable to foster change management within your organization and get the resources needed to drive your digital transformation. It is fair to say that without the support from our top management at Schneider, we would not be where we are today.
As a team, we see our B2B eCommerce transformation as an ongoing process rather than a project. Over the past 3-4 years, our Schneider eCommerce team gradually came together with the constant underlying aim to build the best team.
- Recruiting for potential and cultural fit
To begin with, it’s important for us to look at each employee’s (internal) or candidate’s (external) potential. By potential, we mean their strengths and weaknesses. We look beyond the obvious competencies and assets linked to their current position and team. Indeed, we don’t solely rely on knowledge and expertise as soft skills and a digital mindset are what will make a candidate stand out from the others. More than that, they are a must for us.
We look for people that embody a certain culture, in line with Schneider’s core values. This culture promotes agility & flexibility as crucial assets as well as the ability to learn fast and every day. We also want people that dare to disrupt, to embrace different and to make mistakes while always acting like owners and using their judgement.
- Striving for the ideal well-balanced team
Having said that, it is crucial to create the right combination and blend of profiles. Furthermore, many recent studies from top consulting firms have proven that a business is likely to perform better financially if its workforce is more diverse.
- We balance internal recruits with external ones so that we have on one hand people with great industry and product knowledge, who know how our company operates, and on the other hand people who bring an outside perspective and a new outlook on things. For example, we don’t only look for people with a B2B background, but we broaden our search to consider B2C profiles. Having both people that know eCommerce and others that know Schneider Electric is crucial to successfully drive the eCommerce transformation in our company. In fact, we have initially deliberately created the eCommerce team as a parallel structure to be more agile and lean to achieve quick wins but we are now slowly converging with the larger Schneider Electric organization. So, if we want to drive a successful transformation, we cannot afford getting a team of experts that is not able to connect the dots with the Schneider culture.
- Gender balance is also a reality in our eCommerce team and today we are proud to have 50% women.
- We also try and balance out different generations with one team member out of two who is a millennial. They don’t have the experience others may have but they will be the driving force behind the digital transformation.
- Last but not least, over 60% of our team members each have a different nationality, with each continent represented.
Putting this culture, mindset and diversity forward while looking for new recruits is without any doubt what makes us attractive to digital talents. We offer a real learning experience to these talents joining our team and this is precisely our key differentiator as an employer. Salary is not the only driver anymore when it comes to accepting a job offer and these new talents ask for more experience wise and exposure wise.
In addition to this, we make sure each voice is heard, for example through Top Council meetings organized for selected country eCommerce managers and also through a Millennial Committee set up to gather feedback and bold ideas from the youngest team members. Lastly, we have set up an eCommerce hub in downtown Amsterdam bringing together one third of our team. This enabled us to strengthen our team cohesion and attract digital talents.
After a starting phase where the eCommerce team was just made of a couple of people, the team grew exponentially this past year and today we are entering a third phase of optimization. We are redefining and narrowing down roles to have more experts and less all-rounders.
In my next blog post, I will focus on the second challenge faced when setting up B2B eCommerce in an organization: Processes.